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A place in the sun

Alokananda Roy flanked by Punit Buddhadev and Devanshi Kothari at the panel discussion and (below) Sister Cyril. Pictures by Arnab Mondal

Trafficking, drugs, rape, crime and criminals — such grim matters are not often discussed at length in a school. But this discussion was different, an open and frank lesson on the darker realities of life. To mark 10 years of NGO IBVM Loreto’s presence at the United Nations, Loreto Convent, Entally, hosted a panel discussion titled “Women and children, take your place in the sun” on June 27.

Students of all the Loreto schools and St. Joseph Bowbazar sat in the audience as educationists, social workers and experts shared with them some difficult truths about woman and child trafficking in West Bengal.

The panel included Sister Cyril Mooney and Sister Monica Suchiang of Loreto IBVM, dancer and social worker Alokananda Roy, Punit Buddhadev, a student of St. Joseph Bowbazar, Devanshi Kothari, a student of Loreto College, and Amit Chatterji, an officer of the drugs and narcotics department of Calcutta Police. The moderator was F. Mogrelia, a teacher at Loreto House.

The discussion aimed at empowering students through knowledge, hoping that they would in turn help the less fortunate ones claim their place in the sun. “Those of us who are privileged often take our education for granted. Education is a distant dream for many,” reminded Mogrelia, citing Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai’s example.

Sister Cyril said it was our duty to help others. “Education is the biggest empowerment. Exams are important, but we cannot forget the bigger picture or the greater cause,” she said, adding how there was more to community service than charity.

She called for justice in classrooms, no discrimination among students and the need for the haves to come and teach and befriend those less privileged. “Teach the poor on Saturdays and strive for their empowerment as well.” She also spoke strongly for inclusive education, where all are welcome, including those that come barefoot.

Sister Monica, a lawyer working with trafficked women and children, cited some shocking statistics. According to a UN report of 2013, 27 million women and children were trafficked through kidnapping, selling and reselling; a lot of children are trafficked and sold online; 23,000 women and children of Bengal have gone untraceable.

“In January I met a girl in Basirhat who was raped 14 times in half-an-hour. All she could do was cry. It later came out that her parents had sold her off to a 50-year-old for Rs 25,000. Such was the poverty and helplessness of the family,” said Monica.

She also had a word of caution for the students: “A lot of girls are being kidnapped from beauty parlours in recent times. So, be cautious when you go there alone,” she said.

Alokananda Roy told the students how the children of jail inmates are desperately in need of some sunshine, happiness and the light of knowledge. These kids are scared of darkness and cars as they have lived inside correctional homes since childhood for no fault of theirs. Some of them leave the jail and get involved in crime themselves.

“Poverty can make you do all kinds of wrong things. No one is born an offender. I have stopped judging people,” said Roy as she shared the story of a woman who jumped into the river with her two daughters after being tortured at home. The children died while the woman survived. She is now serving a sentence.

Police officer Amit Chatterji spoke about the ragpickers in Sealdah station who also peddle drugs and work as petty thieves. “Kids are often forced into glue addiction,” he said.

Chatterji also shared with the audience case histories of peddlers and how rich kids often take to drugs because of their peers. From drugs being smuggled across borders to how innocent people get caught with a large consignment and are forced to serve a longer sentence while hardened criminals manage to get away with a much lighter term, the officer’s talk left everyone speechless.

The student speakers touched upon the Internet and crime and how a good education can make all the difference.